John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was supposed to be my last week book. I read the book years ago when I was 12 years old in French and hated it. Since I owned the book, I figured I wouldn’t buy it again and just read it a second time. My husband made a very wise comment: maybe I didn’t like it because the French version wasn’t up to par with the English one. Not that I could have known back then since I was only in my 2nd year of learning English and I couldn’t have dreamed of reading such a complex and long book in its original version. But I bought the English book and read it.
Let’s be honest I still didn’t particularly like the book: the changes between the classical almost romantic style of writing long description omniscient narrator to the narrow point of view and local slang of the time made it really hard for me. And yes, it made me realize there are still words/slang and idioms that I need to learn.
The book follows the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers, from their home farm in Oklahoma to California, after they get kicked out for defaulting on their payment to the bank after the dust bowl and their farm is repossessed. They take Route 66 to California along with thousands of others who expect to find a promise land of grapes and oranges and peaches, only to find hard work for ridiculous wages.
It doesn’t take numerous of literature classes or even social studies to understand Steinbeck’s harsh criticism of industrialization and how he deems it to be at the roots of the 1930s Great Depression; his description of the tractors – which inspired my post on “pathetic fallacy” yesterday – really hits the spot. And it’s only one example.
I may not like the style but at the same time I can feel the anger, the fear, the criticism… D. Adams wrote that “Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” (The Salmon of Doubt) Is that what it is? I don’t know… sometimes it feels like it: in the characters of Muley Graves – and of Grampa – who can’t leave their land, won’t abandon the place they’ve called home all their lives. Somehow it seems that holding on too tight to the past is also a curse…
I can’t say that second reading made me love the book, but as an adult I probably could understand a lot more of the plot and the message than when I was a kid. It’s interesting and in its own way it’s compelling story. Still it probably won’t end on my favourite book list.
Have you read The Grapes of Wrath?
What did you think?